Pattison Liquid Systems brings automation to ag retail in partnership with Dot Technology Corp.
The future of autonomous agriculture took on a whole new shape when the DOT Power Platform rolled out at Ag in Motion (AIM) in July 2017. DOT has no tractor and no cab, which is exactly what the inventor intended.
“I could have designed it to have a driver, but with all of the capabilities we have now, it didn’t make sense to stick an operator in a cab. They may as well be in a more enjoyable location,” says Norbert Beaujot, president and founder of Dot Technology Corp. and its sister company, SeedMaster.
The idea for DOT was born when Beaujot began thinking about an autonomous seeder in 2014, and quickly realized the value that could come from using a modular system; one frame that accepts multiple implement configurations and operates autonomously.
The execution is a diesel-powered unit designed to handle a wide variety of common agricultural implements, including seeders, sprayers and fertilizer spreaders. DOT uses four hydraulic arms to lift the desired implement and attach it to its U-shaped chassis.
SeedMaster designed the first implements for DOT, including a 30 ft. air seeder, 60 ft. sprayer, 41 ft. land roller and a 500 bushel grain cart. Beaujot says this is by no means an exhaustive list of implements DOT can handle. In fact, he says, there are over 100 implements that he thinks could be made to be compatible with DOT.
To bring this vision to life, Beaujot saw an opportunity and a need to collaborate with other manufacturers on a broader lineup of implements. He then decided to invite Canadian manufacturers, including SeedMaster’s competitors, to partner with Dot Technology on developing them.
Connecting with DOT
The first company outside of DOT/SeedMaster to sign up was Pattison Liquid Systems, a manufacturer and retailer of liquid fertilizer application equipment based in Lemberg, Sask.
“We’ve been in equipment manufacturing for 37 years, and we’ve been keeping up with technological and agronomic advancements since day one,” says Rick Pattison, president and owner of Pattison Liquid Systems. “We’ve considered autonomous equipment in the past, but that’s a big task for a smaller company to take on.”
According to Pattison, their partnership with DOT has been mutually beneficial because it allowed the company to enter the autonomous market when they would likely not have been able to on their own, and for DOT, Pattison’s adaptability made them an ideal partner.
“Our reactions are very quick compared to some of the big companies. This worked well for DOT as we’re both smaller companies. It’s really a perfect fit. There is a lot of synergy between us,” says Pattison.
“Ongoing collaboration with Pattison and other implement partners is critical as we continue developing and testing DOT,” says Cory Beaujot, Norbert’s son and the marketing and communications manager at DOT/SeedMaster. “We are not experts in sprayers, but Pattison is and we were thrilled to work with them as the first implement partner outside of the DOT/SeedMaster family.”
Cory says that after completing the legal paperwork, Pattison and DOT’s partnership began with uniting their engineering teams. The two groups went back and forth with mechanical drawings, starting with basic concepts, and met to discuss desired functionality and advance the design.
“It was a lot of idea sharing and a lot of communication,” says Cory. “In this case, Pattison didn’t have their own dedicated software team, so we were happy to fill in some voids with our in-house team. That’s a resource we will provide to any implement partners who may not have the same level of in-house capacity.”
The Connect Sprayer
Pattison says his company has two implements in development and unveiled the prototype of their Connect PSLU S120 sprayer at Canada’s Farm Progress show in Regina this June.
The Connect sprayer was also combined with the DOT power unit for field demonstrations at AIM in July. The 120 ft. crop sprayer has a 1,600 US gallon stainless steel tank and a continuous flow boom, allowing for more even pressure flow and easier rinsing and cleaning. It also offers turn compensation, individual nozzle control and auto height controls.
Pattison says they will test the Connect sprayer in Saskatchewan throughout harvest and then plan to transport it, along with a DOT unit, to Arizona to continue testing during the winter. Pattison’s second implement, a 40 ft. coulter for mid-row banding and fall applications, isn’t ready to hit fields yet, but was on display at AIM for a first look.
Easing the Workload
Since announcing that his company is partnering with Dot Technology to develop autonomous application equipment, Pattison says he has received an overwhelmingly positive response from customers and industry peers.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to is really keen on seeing how this all shapes up,” he says. “Farmers are also pretty keen on it, although there’s the odd one that doesn’t understand and thinks it’s science fiction.”
According to Pattison, autonomous implements are far from fiction, and will have a very real impact on the agriculture industry. As autonomous technology becomes mainstream, he says the implements will lighten the workload for farmers and applicators and help address the shortage of people entering the ag workforce.
“In ag retail, there has always been an awful lot of custom application. Finding someone who is willing to sit in a cab all day is becoming increasingly difficult,” he says. “You’re working long hours, and you can get bored and fatigued sitting there all day. By taking the operator out of the cab, they can take care of other jobs, or spend time at home with family.”
DOT and the Connect sprayer can also ease the workload by extending the number of hours crop spraying can occur during a day. Since the unit doesn’t get tired, and it doesn’t need light to “see” where it is going, it can spray in low-visibility conditions that a human can’t.
“With an autonomous sprayer, we can spray through the night,” says Pattison. “Crop spraying is always a task, especially when the wind is up, or it’s raining. As long as there is someone available to keep an eye on the unit from their living room couch, the Connect sprayer can work whenever conditions are favourable.”
The Human Element
For these reasons, Pattison sees autonomous implements as a step in the right direction for the industry. “This will be good from a labour perspective, and we will still need operators to fill up the sprayer, transport it and keep an eye on it,” he says.
Lance Stilborn, owner of Weed Smokers Spraying Ltd., a custom application business operating just north of Lemberg, agrees with Pattison’s view that more automation will benefit the industry.
“I definitely see it as a good thing, especially in the future once it’s perfected,” says Stilborn. “Across all areas of agriculture, labour is an issue as farms are getting larger. Autonomous implements can lighten the workload for equipment owners and operators.”
Stilborn doesn’t see his business or the application services provided by ag retailers being negatively impacted by autonomous tech, at least, not anytime soon enough to be worried about it.
“We’re a long way away from this technology making jobs obsolete. I think we’ll get to the point eventually where it really changes things, but we’re still a long way away,” says Stilborn.
“Conditions are never going to be perfect,” he continues. “With spraying, you’re dealing with wind and drift and that’s where a good operator comes in. An operator will still need to monitor the unit and be available to make changes
on the fly.
That’s what we’re in this game for – to bring value to farmers
Implementing the Future
Pattison says the company is planning more implements after they complete work on the Connect sprayer and the coulter.
“We want to get these two finalized, then we’ll start putting more into production,” he says. “We’ve thought about other implements that we’re interested in developing – all are fertilizer related.”
Both Pattison Liquid Systems and Dot Technology are excited to roll out more implements and continue developing autonomous technology to improve the workflow for farmers and applicators.
“We want to keep things moving forward and collaborating with Pattison and as many implement partners as possible. That’s when true value will become fully realized,” says Cory. “That’s what we’re in this game for – to bring value to farmers.”
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